#682: Zip Code by The Five Americans
The Five Americans were originally a group called The Mutineers. They consisted of guitarist Mike Rabon, keyboard player Jim Durrill, guitar and harmonica player Norman Ezell, bass player Jim Grant and drummer Johnny Coble. From Durant, Oklahoma, they graduated as students from the local Southeastern State College and moved to Dallas, Texas. Coble was replaced by Jimmy Wright. Once in Texas their style shifted from mostly instrumental versions of tunes by Duane Eddy to a garage band sound. They recorded “I See The Light” in 1965 and it became a Top 30 hit in the USA the following year. It featured the Vox Continental electric organ and shouting out lyrics such as “you tried to fool me, but I got wise, now I won’t listen to none of your lies…. From now on baby, I’m gonna beware. I’ll be sorry baby, but I don’t care…”
Mike Rabon had been playing guitar since the age of eight. He was in an Oklahoma band called the Rhythm Rebels in the late 50’s. The Mutineers formed in 1962 on the Southeastern Oklahoma State University campus. They played a lot of gigs at colleges. In 1964 the founder of Abnak Records, insurance sales man John Abdnor, got the band to sign a record contract. He also gave them the name, The Five Americans, so they would be clearly identified as a home grown band and not part of the British Invasion.
The first singles The Five Americans released were in the winter of 1964-65. “Say That You Love Me”, I’m Gonna Leave Ya”, “Show Me” and “I’m Feeling Okay” all got airplay. These singles introduced the band to radio listeners in Dallas, Fort Worth and Wichta Falls, Austin and Waco, Texas, and Oklahoma City (OK). But it was “I See The Light” that got the band to the #2 spot in Austin (TX) and #4 in Sacramento (CA) in December 1965. A reissue of the song on HBR records took the tune to #1 in San Jose and Columbus (OH), #3 in Tampa (FL) and Syracuse (NY), #4 in Lexington (KY), #5 in San Diego and Dallas, #6 in fort Worth, #7 in Los Angeles, #8 in San Bernardino, and #9 in Vancouver (BC). However, their follow up garage band genre tunes, “Evol Not Love” and “Good Times” failed to garner much interest.
In the 1950’s rockabilly singer Dale Hawkins had a hit in 1957 titled “Susie Q”. It was the same Dale Hawkins who was working for Abnak Records as an A&R man. Hawkins ended up producing “I See The Light” and other hit singles by the Five Americans. With their garage band follow up single releases failing to expand their sales and fan base, The Five Americans softened their garage band sound and adopted a sunshine pop sound. Songs like “Western Union”, their biggest hit reaching #5 in the USA, were a prototype of what would become a basis for Bubblegum Pop in 1968. “Sound of Love,” their third Top 30 hit was another example of Sunshine Pop in late spring of 1967. Their next single was “Zip Code”. It was coincidentally on the pop charts with two number one hits, “The Letter” by The Box Tops letter themed hit by Lulu, “To Sir With Love”. All three songs were in the Top Ten in Vancouver in early September 1967. (As the Vancouver radio market was often a test market for European songs, “To Sir With Love” didn’t reach it’s peak on the Billboard Hot 100 until late November 1967).
With “Zip Code”, The Five Americans had their own sense of urgency in getting a letter mailed. In their case it was to a woman a guy saw in New York City. As it was love at first sight, the singer promised to write. He makes sure he includes the zip code, 10036, to ensure speedy delivery. The actual zip code, 10036, is for an area in midtown Manhattan that includes parts of Hell’s Kitchen, The Town Hall, Madame Tussauds, the 42nd Street Port Authority bus terminal, Times Square, Pier 84 at Hudson River Park and Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises. The 10036 zip code is bounded by 5th Avenue and the Hudson River, and between 41st Street (including one block south to 40th Street) and 48th Street (with one block north to 49th Street). A number of Broadway theaters also are located in this zip code. They include the New Amsterdam Theatre which opened in 1903, the Belasco Theatre which opened in 1907, the Palace Theatre which opened in 1913, and the Majestic Theatre and St. James Theatre which both opened in 1927.
In 1943, the United States Postal Service created postal zones for larger cities. For example, you might send a letter to an address in Chicago 07, Illinois, or Chicago 14, Illinois. But with the continued growth of the population in America, the USPS created five digit zip codes in 1963. ZIP stood for Zoning Improvement Plan. In the case of cities like Chicago, the last two digits in the zip code corresponded with the postal zones that began in 1943. Now people lived in zip codes in Chicago with 60607, 60614 and 31 other zip codes. Individuals sending a letter or postcard in the mail were told that entering the zip code would get the mail delivered more expediently as a zip code helped the mail zip along. The USPS developed a campaign with a cartoon character, named Mr. Zip, to promote Zip Code usage. Another ad, featuring a certain yellow-hatted detective, read: “Dick Tracy says: ‘Protect your mail! Use ZIP codes!'” And in 1983, the USPS developed a ZIP+4 Code. These use the five-digit zip code plus four additional digits to identify a geographic segment within the five-digit delivery area, such as a city block a group of apartments, an individual high-volume receiver of mail.
“Zip Code” was co-written by band members Mike Rabon (guitar), John Durrill (keyboards) and Norman Ezell (guitar and harmonica). While Zip Code barely made it into the Top 40 in the USA, it peaked at #4 in Vancouver. The only other radio markets where the song did well were mostly in Texas, especially Lubbock, Texas, on AM station, KSEL, where it peaked at #2. It peaked at #5 in Abilene and #9 in Dallas. As The Five Americans were now identified as Texas band, it was to be expected that their best sales occurred in their newly adopted home state. “Zip Code” also climbed to #5 in Cincinnati, #8 in Dayton and Akron, (OH) and #7 in Green Bay (WI). Rabon, Durrill and Ezell also penned the Five Americans’ other notable hits “Sound of Love“, “Western Union” and “I See the Light”.
After “Zip Code” the band failed to repeat their earlier Top 40 success. They tried to build on their communication theme started with “Western Union” and continued with “Zip Code”, by releasing “No Communication”. But the song was too gimmicky and was a commercial failure. In 1969 they disbanded. Rabon went on to tour as a solo artist and subsequently joined Gladstone, a pop group from Tyler, Texas. Gladstone had a minor hit in 1972 about a marriage license called A Piece of Paper. John Durrill wrote a song called “Dark Lady” that became a #1 hit for Cher in March 1974. In 1969, Durrill became a member of the instrumental band, The Ventures. He had written hundreds of songs and artists like Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra and Brenda Lee have recorded his tunes. Durrill continues to write, including projects in film. Norman Ezell became a teacher and Christian minister in California. Jim Grant, who designed The Five Americans albums, went on to be the head of a graphic design company in Dallas.
In his autobiography, Rabon begins by describing how, by 1976, he’d become a “full-blown addict” to drugs, sniffing bags of white powder. He found it ironic that he ended up in that state, given he was the one who laid down the no drug policy for The Five Americans. Rabon also describes himself as clinically depressed and hooked on Vallium prescribed by his doctor. Several Five Americans bandmates had become alcoholics. Rabon reflected, in High Strung, that perhaps he should have established a policy about alcohol consumption as well. It seems even a garage rock band become sunshine pop/bubblegum group like The Five Americans fit the stereotype of rock musicians living to excess.
On March 15, 2003, The Five Americans returned to Southeastern Oklahoma State University, in Durant, OK, to perform in concert. Jim Grant died in Dallas in 2004. Norma Ezell died in 2010. And Jimmy Wright died in Denison, Texas, in 2012. Mike Rabon went on to become a school teacher, building on his degree in Speech Education. And in 2011 authored a book about The Five Americans called High Strung. In his autobiography, Rabon begins by describing how, by 1976, he’d become a “full-blown addict” to drugs, sniffing bags of white powder. He found it ironic that he ended up in that state, given he was the one who laid down the no drug policy for The Five Americans. Rabon also describes himself as clinically depressed and hooked on Vallium. Several Five Americans bandmates had become alcoholics. Rabon reflected, in High Strung, that perhaps he should have established a policy about alcohol consumption as well. It seems even a garage rock band become sunshine pop/bubblegum group like The Five Americans fit the stereotype of rock musicians living to excess.
September 6, 2018
Rabon, Mike. High Strung: The Five Americans – A Memoir. Aberdeen Bay, 2011
Rabon, Durrill of Five Americans Fame Remain Active in Music, Writing, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, January 27, 2017
Michael Jack Kirby, The Five Americans Western Union, Wayback Attack.com
Chicago Real Estate For Sale by Zip Code Map, Best Chicago Properties.com
Introduction to Mr. Zip, United States Postal Service 1963 campaign.
Robert Moon, an Inventor of the ZIP Code, Dies at 83, NY Times, NY, NY, April 16, 2001
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.